Playing Rot-Weiss Essen is a bit like FC Saarbrücken last season: The league the team plays in does not truly reflect the performance level of the side. With the former giants from the Ruhr Valley, they may be just a Regional League club on paper but their ambitions are much greater. Promotion to the third division was given as a target for the start of the season and that was underlined by the engagement of coach Christian Neidhart. He was brought in from SV Meppen – a team playing in the third division a tier above Essen. But there is huge ambition at RWE – and the club is on the right track. They are currently second in the Regional West with 54 points (having played a game less) and are in a tussle for top spot with the Borussia Dortmund Reserves (56 points). The two sides meet on Saturday.
Before that, RWE face the Werkself – and here comes the next parallel to Saarbrücken. Essen have also turned out to be the cup shock team this season against sides from higher leagues. They beat Arminia Bielefeld 1-0 in the first round and then went on to knock out top second division team Fortuna Düsseldorf in a 3-2 victory. To overcome Essen, Bayer 04 will have to inflict the first defeat of the season on the fourth division side. In the campaign to date, and since Neidhart took the helm as coach, RWE have not lost a single competitive match.
The desire for football at a higher level cherished by Essen is evident in the squad. The RWE ranks include a number of players who have played in the second division or even the Bundesliga in the past. Midfield stalwart Dennis Grote made 69 Bundesliga appearances for VfL Bochum and scored two of his six goals against FC Bayern. Number one keeper Daniel Davari was promoted to Germany's top-flight in 2013 with Eintracht Braunschweig and he remained the first choice in goal in the Bundesliga season for the team from Lower Saxony. The keeper also made four international appearances for Iran and he was in the squad for the World Cup in Brazil.
On top of that, the Essen squad also has a large number of players who came through the youth set-ups at Bundesliga clubs. Midfielder Cedric Harenbrock played for all the youth teams at Bayer 04 and is now Essen's second-highest goalscorer this season. And his teammate Amara Condé also spent six years at Kurtekotten.
The Werkself will have to pay most attention to a player who has not come through an academy or ever played at a higher level: Midfielder Simon Engelmann has played in the Regional League West since 2010 with a break of just six months – and he almost scores when he wants. In the last two years he was the top scorer in the league playing for SV Rödinghausen and since his move to Essen he still tops the goalscorers list with 20 in 22 games. The 31-year-old netted a brace last time out in the 2-0 win against Bonner SC and, of course, he also found the back of the net in both cup ties. When he was signed by Essen in the summer, RWE sporting director Jörn Nowak said he "was a target of a number of higher league clubs." If Engelmann carries on in the same vein then he will soon be able to look forward to playing in the third tier – at least.
Of course, RWE do not have many problems at the moment given their unbeaten run this season, being in the top two in the Regional League and the two DFB Cup shocks. Anybody searching for a problem could possibly focus on the relative dependence on top striker Engelmann. The centre forward has netted 20 of 48 goals this season and the next highest scorer at the club is a midfielder. There could be more of a threat from the wingers in the Essen 4-1-4-1 formation with the two right-wingers Joshua Endres and Isaiah Young only scoring one goal between them this season. But as long as they have a reliable striker in the middle then that should not be too serious an issue.
Bayer 04 have definitely been warned: This Essen team is much better than their league status might suggest. It appears to be more than realistic that RWE, after 12 years in the fourth division, will get promoted to the third again and be able to compete next term. And Neidhart's team definitely have the quality to make life difficult for the Werkself in the DFB Cup.
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